Living in the Far East offers me the advantage of entering the New Year several hours before the rest of the world does so. We are now just four hours away from 2009 here in Tokyo. This is surely going to be my last post in 2008 and coincidentally my 200th post on this blog.

At a time like this, it is important for me to look at some of the major events in my life in the past twelve months. Last year, at a time like this, I was in Malawi. I had returned from South Africa seven months earlier where I was offered a PhD scholarship by the Meraka Institute soon after completing my MSc studies. I chose to take a break and go back home because of the crime wave in that country.

For a long time I used to think that crime in South Africa was not that severe. But that impression changed completely when thugs hijacked my friend who was driving to his home. They robbed him of his car, the groceries which he had bought and cash. Thank God his life was spared. But in another incident somewhere in Durban, another close friend was butchered to death. The thugs wrapped his body in a sack and dumped it in the bush close to his home. It took close to two weeks before his body was discovered. As you can imagine, it was in a very bad state.  These events forced me to leave South Africa for Malawi. I am glad because the people at Meraka Institute understood my situation.

After going back to Malawi, in the midst of my fading interest in the South Africa PhD option,  I submitted application documents to the Japanese Embassy for the Japanese Government scholarship. I was shortlisted for interviews with four other applicants. Two days after the interviews, I received a phone call from the Embassy notifying me that I was successful. They, however, told me that I had to wait for the final approval from Ministry of Education in Tokyo. By the time we were entering 2008, I had not yet heard anything from Tokyo and I did not enjoy the festive season at all. I kept asking myself whether I should continue waiting for Tokyo or  I should just forget about Tokyo and go back to South Africa. I really liked the Meraka Institute. The people at Meraka were so nice to me but I feared the crime. On the other hand, the experience of doing my PhD research at Tokyo Institute of Technology was also very interesting. But Tokyo was quiet and it was very difficult for me.

While I was still in the horns of dilemma, I was attacked by Malaria (4 plus) and I ended up being hospitalized for the very first time in my life. That was in January, 2008 and, somwehow, I was thinking that maybe 2008 was going to be a bad year for me. But I received a lot of encouragement from fellow believers and within a week I was back to normal.

In the first week of February 2008, I received a phone call from the Japanese Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia notifying me that the Ministry of Education in Japan had approved my scholarship such that I had to liaise with the new Japanese Embassy in Malawi for travel arrangements. I also received some emails from my professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology notifying me of the same thing. I arrived in Tokyo on 3 April 2008 and I am now a PhD student at the Hirota Lab in the Department of Computational Intelligence and System Science. I am enjoying each and every moment here. My supervisors, Professor Hirota and Professor Dong, and fellow students are all nice to me. The environment is really good for research.

2008 Hirota Lab Members

2008 Hirota Lab Members

Mine is a busy desk

Mine is a busy desk

Spiritually, I am also not starving here. I have found a good church – the Full Gospel Tokyo Church – a branch of the Yoido Full Gospel Church founded by Rev David Yonggi Cho. I fellowship with christians from many countries in this region.

Christmas party at Baes house

Christmas party at Bae's house

Chilling with fellow christians from Nepal

Chilling with fellow christians from Nepal

Christmas party - Yakiniku

Christmas party - Yakiniku

I started this year with great difficulties. But I am ending it with tremendous joy. I thank God for taking me this far. I am now looking forward to the arrival of my family in Tokyo in the next few weeks. I pray that the year 2009 will be even much better.